On September 11, 2008, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, at a mass rally of fanatics, ordered U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, out of the country within 72 hours. The reason for Duddy’s expulsion was Chávez’s pique with the diplomatic spat between the Bush Administration and the government of Bolivian Evo Morales. The expulsion speech was laced with hate-filled invectives.
“Go straight to hell you, Yankees of s—t,” screamed Chávez. The four-letter expletive figured prominently throughout the speech.
The expulsion was an act over which the Ambassador had no control. Yet, it represented a failure of his diplomatic mission and a loss of diplomatic effectiveness in Caracas.
In the mind and psychology of Latin America, a region where acts of discourtesy and insults are seldom taken lightly, Chávez’s speech and actions were a well-aimed affront to the U.S. ambassador, President Bush, and the U.S.
Nine months later, the Obama White House and Clinton State Department have decided the events of September, in essence, never occurred. Ambassador Duddy, according to reliable press reports, will soon be back in Caracas, in charge of the U.S. mission. Relations with Chávez and Venezuela will now assume a more orderly course. Venezuela’s Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez will return to D.C.
Yet, aside from the famous Obama-Chávez handshake at the Summit of the Americas in April, it is difficult to point to any positive actions or gestures on the part of Chávez and his government to improve bilateral relations. Chávez has stepped up persecution of the democratic opposition, stripped elected officials of their constitutionally-granted powers, threatened to close one of the last voices of the independent media, and charged ahead with economic nationalization.
Particularly noxious is Chávez’s unstinting support for the crackdown in Tehran and his display of adoring loyalty to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Repeatedly Chávez has blamed opposition to electoral fraud and theocratic repression on the CIA and the machinations of the American “empire.”
One can ask what specific U.S. interests will be served by the return of Ambassador Duddy to Caracas.
One justification for this unorthodox diplomatic move is to avoid the lengthy process of naming of a new Ambassador and undergoing the Senate confirmation process, where tough questions regarding the U.S.-Venezuela relationship and Chávez’s active mischief in the Western Hemisphere would likely be raised.
Let’s hope Hugo Chávez and the Venezuelans give the Ambassador a warmer reception this time around. For the moment, the best advice one can offer is keep an overnight bag packed and take along a pair of asbestos trousers.